Sacramento’s only youth homeless organization is moving again

Drop-in center’s relocation to Oak Park may signal partnership between Wind Youth Services and Goodwill

Past the broken elevator and up three dingy flights of carpeted stairs, 20-odd homeless youth enjoy a last supper of sorts: chili dogs on paper plates.

It’s a busy Friday at Wind Youth Services’ drop-in center for area homeless youth. People nap or eat. A young man plunks out phrases on a wood-framed piano, while another plays a computer game with his headphones on. A teenage girl shows another one how to draw hands. A boy works up the courage to talk to her.

On May 5, Wind closed the Midtown center after nearly 16 months in the location, at J and 17th streets. Next stop is Oak Park, where Wind will restart services May 11, inside of a building owned by Next Move Sacramento, a provider of family shelter and housing. By all accounts, the new place is nicer, with an outdoor area, two kitchens, showers and laundry facilities—amenities that the old location lacked, noted Wind Executive Director Suzi Dotson.

But it’s also outside of the central city and thus, harder for local homeless youth to access.

Some of Wind’s neighbors won’t be upset about that.

Pushback from surrounding businesses began almost as soon as the region’s only services-provider for unaccompanied homeless youth moved in early last year. The Midtown Business Association was the biggest hub for these complaints, which accused the drop-in center of attracting homeless youth and enabling bad behavior, like loitering, fights and drug use.

Between Wind’s arrival on January 20, 2015, and March 1, 2016, the Sacramento Police Department fielded 44 calls for service regarding the location, said Sgt. Justin Brown, including four burglaries. Most of the rest were unfounded.

Dotson said the MBA played no role in Wind’s move to Oak Park, and credited its work funding homeless-services navigators, which operate like in-the-field caseworkers. “MBA has been very supportive and we have developed a strong partnership,” Dotson wrote in an email.

(A navigator used to be assigned to Wind, but the city stopped funding the position after the navigator participated in the Right to Rest occupation outside of City Hall.)

Dotson described the move to Oak Park as temporary, “until an affordable location can be identified,” and named affordability as the primary reason the drop-in center is moving.

It may also be a sign of a developing partnership.

In mid-February, Wind closed a six-bed adolescent shelter due to funding constraints, reopening it five weeks later with the help of the county and Goodwill Sacramento Valley & Northern Nevada, which contributed enough money to keep the shelter open through the rest of the year. That led to talk of a potential alliance between Wind and Goodwill, which also has community partnerships with Next Move and other local nonprofits.

Nothing is final, but Dotson said Goodwill’s operational strengths—including in-house human resources, information technology and fund development departments—allow its partner organizations to focus on serving their disadvantaged populations.

Wind’s drop-in center was previously in north Sacramento. Dotson acknowledged the Oak Park location may be less accessible for some.

One of those youths is 19-year-old Collin “C.J.” Jackson, a regular drop-in guest who camps with friends near the American River. “I don’t know about anybody else, but it will be harder for me to get to,” he said of the new location.

Homeless for about a year, Jackson spent three of those months in jail for panhandling. He was arrested in Sacramento, but transferred to the jail in Stockton. When he was released, he didn’t get his shoes back.

On the Friday before the drop-in center closed, Jackson showed off a new panhandling sign that he hopes will ward off arrest. On one side, the battered cardboard reads: “Homeless. Anything helps. Anything but dirty looks. Thanks and God bless.” The other side is covered in scribble-sketches of “the elements,” at least the ones most relevant to him: fire, poison, earth, darkness and light. He plans to display the elements to passing officers.

He slides the sign behind a stuffed garbage bag he’s zip-tied to a baby stroller. Tilting the stroller onto its bag wheels, Jackson leaves with his things.